Our Opinion: Eden changes, but hikes will remain


WILLIAMSTOWN >> Hikes you've hiked and hikes you haven't — a bit presumptuous for talking about "50 Hikes in the Berkshire Hills" (Countryman/WW Norton)? I mean, how do I know that you haven't covered all the territory in the book and then some? Becoming acquainted with most of the county is a huge benefit.

I don't know of any place where so many wooded trails on land opened to the public are so near at hand to such a large portion of the population. Or any place where so many trails are so carefully used and carefully kept.

I quote Milton's "Paradise Lost" in the dedication of the new book, lines about our forefather and -mother leaving Eden. "They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,/ Through Eden took their solitary way." But I feel we — or our ancestors — never left Eden. So what I see, whether in our particular Berkshire paradise or the world in general, is our great good fortune to share a natural world.

Still, and this is the hard part, instead of leaving Eden, we have changed it and are continuing to do so. In many ways, some avoidable. Of these, the most acute is climate change.

The state of Eden is something I thought hard about in dedicating a book about getting outdoors to "my children and grandchildren." The nature they walk in will not be the same. It isn't the same, already.

I have enjoyed so much the trails, the views, the artifacts from people who lived, worked and played here prior to me. I know that the natural world is not static, but dynamic, and that people as well as other creatures have always changed it. Plants ease out other plants, by shading them or altering the soil chemistry, for example. I realize the differences humans make when I come across a stone wall or apple tree or cellar hole and lilac in what is now the middle of the woods.

So there, way up upon our ridges, was once open fields. Sheep or cows grazed there, depending on which brought the higher price. The trees have recently returned, and with them no longer domestic beasts but the wild life that greeted settlers 200 years ago. That's part of the lesson, particularly on our Berkshire trails.

Climate change is far more toxic than other human-caused alterations, however, worse than other forms of pollution. It jiggers the precarious sets of balances that make our lives comfortable, even possible. It exaggerates forms of weather in ways that make it inhospitable for all living creatures.

Yet I believe that the natural world, whether in Berkshire or beyond, will continue to be a place where my successors will trod. Still, they will enjoy the renewal that comes from at-one-ness with our environment.

It won't be the same — and from my point of view it may seem diminished — but it will be there for them in some form. They will hike hikes I haven't.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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